Double Standards on Dueling Campaign Ads: Katharine Seelye Calls Kristol a Neocon

Katharine Seelye dubiously defends CAIR, while painting Bill Kristol as a neocon puppetmaster whose anti-Sestak ad "serves as a shot across the bow to candidates in other states whom Mr. Kristol and his fellow neoconservatives deem insufficiently supportive of Israel." She's kinder to a liberal counterattack: "The statements in this advertisement are not in dispute."

Katharine Seelye revived a recurring feature, "The Ad Campaign," a critique of dueling political ads, in Wednesday's edition. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Times often labeled GOP ads and campaign statements unfair while letting inaccurate statements from the Obama team slide by.

The same double standard was displayed in Seelye's "A Punch and a Counterpunch in the Pennsylvania Senate Race," on the face-off between liberal Rep. Joe Sestak and supporters of Rep. Pat Toomey over Sestak's alleged lack of support for Israel.

Seelye snidely introduced the ad from Toomey supporters, referencing ad sponsor and Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol with the loaded term "neoconservative," a current term of opprobrium from the left.

This hard-hitting advertisement against Representative Joe Sestak, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, marks the debut of a hawkish, pro-Israel group, the Emergency Committee for Israel, led by William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. It also serves as a shot across the bow to candidates in other states whom Mr. Kristol and his fellow neoconservatives deem insufficiently supportive of Israel. The 30-second advertisement began running July 13 in Philadelphia and its suburbs on CNN and Fox and appeared during two Phillies games; it is to run through early next week.

After sketching out the ad's visuals, including the phrase "A front group for Hamas" in reference to the Council on American-Islamic Relations," Seelye repeated the ad's script:

Does Congressman Joe Sestak understand Israel is America's ally? Sestak raised money for an anti-Israel organization the F.B.I. called a front group for Hamas. Sestak signed a letter accusing Israel of "collective punishment" for blockading Hamas in Gaza. Sestak refused to sign a bipartisan letter affirming U.S. support for Israel. Call Joe Sestak. Ask him to stand with Israel. Paid for by the Emergency Committee for Israel.

Seelye quibbled over the ad's accuracy:

[Sestak and his aides] say Mr. Sestak did not raise money for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, but spoke only during a portion of a CAIR event in 2007 that he specifically demanded not be used for fund-raising. Right after his speech, however, council officials said the fund-raising portion of the evening would begin. In any case, CAIR had not been branded "a front group for Hamas" until later, and the group has never been charged with terrorism.

That's an awful lot of hair-splitting. Liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York had no trouble accusing CAIR of having "ties to terrorism" in hearings in 2003, while liberal Sen. Dick Durbin said CAIR was "unusual in its extreme rhetoric and its associations with groups that are suspect."

Seelye went on to chide: "The advertisement throws a lot of sand at Mr. Sestak, who has generally supported the president on Israel, but its specifics are somewhat obscure."

By contrast, an ad from the liberal lobbying group J Street was awarded an unblemished score for accuracy: "The statements in this advertisement are not in dispute." Apparently that includes J Street labeling Sestak's opponents "far right."

The script for J Street's ad:

The far right is attacking Joe Sestak over Israel. They won't tell you that in Congress Sestak consistently votes for aid to Israel. Or that as a Navy admiral, he helped strengthen Israel's defenses. Joe Sestak courageously supports American leadership to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and supports a two-state solution, just like the majority of Americans who care about Israel's and America's security. Tell Congressman Sestak to keep fighting for peace and security in the Middle East.

You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.